“Nami! Nojiko! Vivi! Lunch is ready!” Bellemere called out, hands on her hips as she watched three excited heads turn from the television where credits were playing. They had been attentively watching a cartoon that told the story of Beauty and the Beast.
The three young girls took their seats at the table while Bellemere placed their sandwiches in front of them.
Nami took a big bite and relished the taste of tangerine marmalade — her favourite. “I don’t get it,” she said, through a mouthful of bread.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Nami,” Nojiko, her ever vigilant older sister, said.
Nami opened her mouth at Nojiko, showing her half-chewed food. Nojiko grimaced while Vivi laughed behind her hand.
“Enough of that, Nami,” Bellemere said, shaking her head with a sigh. “What don’t you get?”
“Why didn’t Belle try to fight the Beast at the start? I think she could’ve beat him,” Nami said, her eyebrows furrowed.
Bellemere chuckled. “That certainly would’ve made for a different story,” she said with a grin. “Though, I really should be teaching you not to resort to violence.”
Nojiko snorted. “Obviously, that wouldn’t happen. It was a love story, after all,” she said.
Vivi’s eyes darted between Nami and Nojiko as she slowly chewed on her sandwich.
Nami rolled her eyes. “Lame.”
Bellemere smiled. “You know, Nojiko might be on to something. Maybe Belle could see the red thread linking her to the Beast.”
“Red thread?” came Vivi’s voice, small and curious.
Bellemere turned to her. She was so quiet Bellemere had almost forgotten she was there. Her own two girls, Nami and Nojiko, were a noisy bunch in comparison. Bellemere always hoped Vivi’s manners would brush off on Nami, but such was yet to happen. Nami seemed too eager to take after her own mom. Not that Bellemere was complaining; she’d done just fine for herself. Vivi blinked up at her.
“Yes. How do I say this…” Bellemere said, hand on her chin. “It’s said that some people can see a red thread linking them to the person they will always like best.”
"Bullshit,” Nojiko said.
“Language, Nojiko!” Bellemere said, turning to Nojiko.
“What?” Nojiko shrugged. “I learnt it from you.”
Bellemere sighed. She stood and collected the empty plates. When she got around to Nojiko, she placed the plates down and proceeded to hold Nojiko in a headlock, giving her head a noogie. “You’re lucky I love you troublemakers,” she said.
Nojiko laughed and wrestled out of the hold. “We love you too, mom.”
Nami and Vivi were notably quiet. Bellemere turned to them. They were grinning at one another.
Vivi was amused. She never thought her first encounter with Nami, after fifteen years, would entail this. Nami was drunk and didn’t recognise her, that much was clear.
Vivi had been out for a birthday drink with her friend from work when Nami had accidentally stumbled into her. Nami had looked as if she were ready to scold the person, until she saw that it had only been an apologetic young woman. When Vivi’s friend from work had to eventually leave, Vivi was ready to follow suit until she felt a hand at her shoulder. She turned to see Nami grinning at her. “Let me shout you a drink. For earlier,” Nami said. Vivi nodded.
Fast forward to now. Nami had definitely had one too many, while Vivi was savouring her third. She was a lightweight in comparison to Nami, whose quantity (and variety) of drinks she’d lost track of.
So far she had discovered that Nami was the social media representative of a major fashion label and was only at this bar because of a friend’s recommendation. Vivi also discovered Nami still liked to gamble as she watched her place a bet on a football team (though, admittedly the stakes were much higher than the candy she had used as a child).
“You’re really pretty, you know? You kinda remind me of someone… I’m not sure who, though,” Nami said.
“So you’ve said,” Vivi said, smile playing at her lips.
Nami laughed, no shame at all. “Well, it’s true!”
Vivi shook her head bashfully. Nami hadn’t changed a bit since they were children. Well, she was smarter now and even more beautiful, but she had remained kind and radiant. Vivi couldn’t help but be endeared.
That was until Nami leaned forward and whispered into Vivi’s ear. “You wanna come home with me tonight?”
Vivi blushed at the implications. She wanted to, of course, but not while Nami was so drunk. More than anything she wanted to catch up and for the other woman to actually recognise her.
“Are you here by yourself?” Vivi asked.
They had been talking for a while and Vivi had yet to see anyone accompany Nami. “Yeah, my friends left earlier,” Nami said. “So what do you think? Wanna come home with me? I live pretty close.” There was a mischievous glint in her eyes.
“How about I walk you home?” Vivi suggested instead.
Nami rolled her eyes. “‘Walk me home’.” She snorted. “Sure, let’s go,” she said, placing her empty glass on the table and linking her arm with Vivi’s, leading them through patrons and out of the bar.
They walked down the busy Alubarna street, filled with queues for clubs and of people smoking. Nami had a spring to her step as Vivi tagged along.
“So, Vivi. Where abouts do you live?” Nami asked.
“Here. Alubarna,” Vivi said. She hesitated. “You really don’t remember me. Do you?”
Nami stopped walking and turned to her, head slightly tilted. “Have we met before?”
Vivi wasn’t sure where to look so she chose to stare at a mark on the pavement. “We used to play together when we were children. Your mom used to make us marmalade sandwiches for lunch.”
When Nami didn’t immediately respond, Vivi looked up. Nami was frowning but when their eyes met Nami’s eyebrows shot up and her eyes widened. “Nefertari Vivi. You’re… you’re real?”
Vivi smiled, trying to ease Nami. She knew what was coming. “Yeah.”
Nami’s lip quivered and her eyes looked glassy. Without a warning she lunged forward at Vivi, embracing her in a tight hug. “Oh my god. When mom died, I — I just forgot everything. Questioned everything.”
“I know,” Vivi said, rubbing her back. “You don’t need to explain.” And she didn’t. Vivi did know. It had been a traumatic time in Nami’s life. Vivi was just grateful to have found her again.
Nami took a step back and wiped at her eyes. Vivi offered her a tissue.
“We have a lot of catching up to do,” Nami said, smiling through her sniffling. “Please come back to mine. For coffee, I mean. I don’t want to lose you a second time.”
Vivi nodded and grabbed a hold of her hand, giving it a squeeze. “You won’t.”
After eating the sandwiches Bellemere had made them for lunch, Nami and Vivi ran outside to jump on the trampoline. “So, that red string you told me you see tied from your pinky finger to me… does that mean you like me best? Like my mom said?” Nami asked while bouncing.
Vivi sat down on the edge of the trampoline and held her hand close to her chest as if the red string really was there. “I think so,” she said.
Nami stopped bouncing and sat down next to her. “Good, ‘cause I like you best, too!” Nami said, grinning. She then gave Vivi a slight push before getting back up to bounce. Vivi laughed and got up to join her.
Later, when they had made it back to Nami’s apartment and were sipping their coffees, Nami asked, “How did you know it was me?”
Vivi held up her pinky finger. Nami frowned.
“You’re still the person I like best,” Vivi said, grinning.
The confusion on Nami’s face was slowly replaced by understanding. “Oh,” she said and matched Vivi’s grin with her own.